Being a Postdoc Parent

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Having a hard time balancing new baby with research

July 2004

I'm a postdoc at UCSF who just recently became a mom. I've been having a heck of a time finding a balance between taking care of my new baby (who totally rocks, by the way) and keeping up with my research. Thinking there might be others in my situation, I helped found a postdoc mom's group over here at UCSF. So far, it's been a smashing success... lots of new moms talking about everything from pumping milk to weird baby skin ailments. After the lunch meetings we all feel better about our relationships with our strange little new family members.

Then one day, we were discussing our career aspirations. Every single one of us used to be 100% committed to getting academic research positions, but now that we're moms, most of us are thinking that we just don't have it in us. 70 hour work weeks, moving our families to whatever university will have it really worth it? Plus we feel like we've lost so much time after the unproductiveness of pregnancy and the time constraints of motherhood. Can we ever recover?

So, we're thinking we need to look outside of our group for support and advice. We need the input of women who had babies while they were postdocs in the biological sciences and went on to succeed in the academic research job market anyway!

Are there any women like that out there? If so please, tell us: are the hurdles to academic positions at major research universities really that hard to jump when you're carrying a baby or two? -Spike's mom

I've been struggling with this issue for quite a while. I got my Ph.D. in 1998 and now have 2 children, 33 months and 5 months. Since the birth of my first I have been working 50% as a research scientist at Cal (prior to that I was 100%). I have decided that it is not possible to have the career I aspired to and to be the kind of mother I want to be. I expect it is possible for some people, but not for me. I know that is not what you want to hear, but there is no way I could deal with the demands of a tenure-track position without having someone else essentially raise my children. And even if I chose to hire full- time help I would still be a very stressed-out bitchy mother. Despite what I have invested thus far in my education and career, spending the majority of my time at work is just not acceptable to me. For a long time I thought I'd go back on the job market ''when my kids get older''. But when will that be? It will be many years before my 2 kids are both in school and even then I will want to be with them when they are home. I don't think I'll ever want to work 60-hour weeks. I think if I had gotten tenure before having kids, and was working at a less intense research university, I might be able to manage a tenured job and older children. But I am, happily, accepting the reality of my situation. Although I don't have a career with a capital ''C'', I enjoy my work and am reasonably productive, and I have 2 AWESOME kids and a happy family.